Redistricting Campaign Hopes Signatures by Mail Will Put Their Measure on the Ballot

Putting a measure on the ballot means getting petition signatures, but in a time of pandemic, at least one group will be trying a direct mail campaign instead.  

People Not Politicians is calling on thousands of Oregonian voters via mail to sign a petition for an independent commission to take over electoral redistricting in the state, and if enough people sign the measure would be on the November ballot. 

The coalition is asking for signatures by mail because social distancing restrictions make traditional face-to-face petition work unrealistic.  

What the Measure Would Do 

Called Initiative Petition 57, this proposal seeks to transfer Oregon’s redrawing process for legislative and congressional lines from the hands of the state legislature, and move authority to a new 12-member commission. The idea is to put an end to partisan gerrymandering, which occurs because legislators can have conflicts of interest during the process and can essentially choose their voters, instead of voters choosing them.  

The initiative letter contains a return envelope and is being sent to multiple voters within 500,000 addresses, meaning it is reaching about one million Oregonians. It needs 149,360 valid signatures by July 2 to qualify for the November ballot. 

The 2011 update was the first time in a century that lawmakers did not defer the duty of redrawing to the partisan secretary of state, which also can create potential bias issues.  

Both Support and Opposition are Bipartisan 

Former President Barack Obama as well as former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder are national supporters of the initiative. Locally, supporters include NAACP branches of Oregon, the conservative Taxpayer Association of Oregon, public interest nonprofit OSPIRG, the American Association of University Women of Oregon, and Oregon’s Progressive Party. A chief petitioner of the initiative is Norman Turrill, a retired Portland software engineer and former president of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Oregon. Those in favor are hoping that the initiative will help end gerrymandering and subsequently give voters more power to hold elected representatives responsible, by, according to Turrill, “potentially decreasing the number of districts where incumbents can easily win re-election. 

The opposed include executive director for nonprofit Our Oregon, Becca Uherbelau and executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, Emily McLain. The two have filed a lawsuit with hopes of stopping the redistricting commission initiative from going any further. Uherbelau and McLain are arguing that the initiative violates the Oregon Constitution, specifically a procedural requirement that requires initiatives to only amend one provision of the constitution at a time. They claim that the initiative would both switch redistricting from the state legislature to the commission as well as restrict Oregonians’ rights to free speech excluding elected officials, lobbyists, and other political insiders from serving on the commission.  

Uherbelau and McLain are also concerned that the initiative could prevent young voters and newly naturalized citizens from serving, and since it requires applicants to have voted in at least two of the last three elections, could leave out many more Oregonians as well.  

Here’s Where the Campaign Money is Coming From 

As of right now, “People Not Politicians,” spearheaded by civic and good government groups, has accrued $316,000 in funding: $61,000 from in-kind donations from nonpartisan democracy reform organization Common Cause, $40,000 from The Standard insurance company, $37,000 from the League of Women Voters, and $35,000 from Oregon Business and Industry. 

By Cara Nixon